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July ’05 OCRS meet snowballs from minor to major

The OCRS meet on July 23, 2005 at Steamers started small, with just Eric Marchese, Shirley and Storm Case and a handful of others on hand to get the ball rolling at 1 p.m. – yet within the hour, the club saw a full contingent of musicians and a respectable audience turnout.

Jeffrey Hartman warmed things up with Joplin’s “Weeping Willow” before Shirley took over with a trio of great Lamb rags published by Belwin-Mills in the 1964 “Ragtime Treasures” folio: “Cottontail,” “Ragtime Bobolink” and “Bird-Brain Rag.” All are superb pieces, Shirley adding delightful embellishments in the form of counterpoint and chromatic melodies; “Bird-Brain” is an especially interesting mixture of ragtime genres, including Classic and Novelty.

Eric offered Bob Hoffman’s great 1906 New Orleans rag “Dixie Queen,” then “Come Across,” a wonderful 1915 rag by New York City ragtime composer Mel B. Kaufman. He wrapped up his set with “The Fullerton Glide,” an original composed in 2003, with lyrics added a year later to commemorate the city’s centennial.

Eric’s invitation to Stan Long to take the stage was rebuffed when Stan, in the middle of a plate of food, said he didn’t want to touch the Kawai grand with “greasy fingers,” prompting Eric to remark that if Joe Lamb, who wrote “Greased Lightning,” and Zez Confrey, composer of “Dizzy Fingers,” collaborated, the result would surely be called “Greasy Fingers.” This prompted Eric to recount a similar jokey collaboration offered by Neil Blaze in an email of just a few hours earlier: Were Joplin, whose early publisher was John Stark, and Jelly Roll Morton, composer of “The Naked Dance,” to collaborate, the piece would be titled... “Stark Naked.”

Introducing himself as “house pianist for the Home for the Silly and Bewildered,” Frank Sano took the stage, offering his own piano arrangement of a 1919 piece called “Red Bear Rag” by Russian composer Oleg Alexander Kirsov, a friend of Irving Berlin and the Berlin family much influenced by Berlin’s catalog of ragtime songs and instrumentals. Kirsov, Frank told us, also composed the “Birch Tree” and “Black River” rags; Frank played “Red Bear” from a lead sheet whose title page is in Russian. Next was Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” with Brad Kay doing the honors on the vocals (and interjecting his own lyrics), and a smoothly played version of “I’m Confessin’.”

Wiping the grease from his fingers, Stan offered “Solace,” and Gil Lieby’s “Goldenrod,” with a pleasingly folk-styled main theme, then closed his set with an improvised boogie Stan says he “swiped” from Disneyland pianist Johnny Hodges. The tune, with bits of “Frankie & Johnny” and “In the Mood,” was presented replete with 4/4 and walking octaves in the bass – a neat performance by Stan.

Andrew Barrett offered Lamb’s recently published “Greased Lightning” which, though intricate, is amazingly consistent stylistically with the rest of Lamb’s output. His second selection was equally surprising: the 1911 “Phantom Rag” by Sol Ginsburg and Al W. Brown, a pretty, lyrical and ultimately haunting piece. Andrew’s third rag was Bennett’s “Sweet Pickles,” one of Bennett’s most charming rags, with a funky, bluesy opening strain and, in Andrew’s hands, a variety of styles (including boogie) in the closing theme.

Continuing with the “pickles” theme, Bill Mitchell offered “Dill Pickles” with a bouncy swing, then Morton’s “Chicago Breakdown,” rarely heard as a piano solo at ragtime meets. Even more rare: Morton’s “Big Lip Blues,” a slow, bluesy, lyrical tune Bill said Jelly Roll recorded in a 1939-40 New York session with a pickup band.

Brad soloed on another Waller, “African Ripples,” showing great dexterity in switching from its frantic opening section to the more lyrical, yet intricate, B theme, to the broad, bluesy, grandiose trio – and he threw in some Stride licks as well. Brad then switched to “(I’m Going Back to) Venice by the Sea,” his own 1988 ode to the city of his residence, complete with such tongue-in-cheek vocals as “argufying” and “gondola” rhyming with “Victrola.”

Brad continued his set with a nicely measured rendition of Ellington’s “Blues with a Feeling”; Harry Warren’s “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” accompanying his vocals on piano and kazoo before breaking into a full-on stride version of the song; and “The Easy Winners.”

Continuing with his survey of Joplin’s 1905 (centennial this year) pieces, Eric offered “Rosebud March,” then followed with two patriotic tunes by figures connected to the ragtime era in different ways and, because of their years of publication, pleasing bookends to the ragtime era: “Over There,” George M. Cohan’s 1917 song exhorting America’s doughboys to clean up the messy European war; and the 1897 piano solo version of Sousa’s rousing “Stars and Stripes Forever,” given appropriate, ragtime-style embellishments by the pianist.

Shirley encored with Cozad’s peppy “Eatin’ Time,” Wilkes’ light foxtrot “Baltimore Rag” and Eubie’s “Baltimore Todolo,” which contains much in the way of blues harmonies.

Frank encored with “Cakewalkin’ Babies from Home” (with Brad improvising alongside him, on the Kawai’s upper registers); and that jazz age staple “The Charleston.” Bill encored with Scott’s “Sunburst” and a Mitchell solo we never tire of hearing, Morton’s “The Pearls,” played with smooth expertise, plus his own original “Musty Rag” (a mixture of “Misty” and “Dusty Rag”).

Stan encored with Moret’s “Indian Summer” and his Tichenor-styled “Haunting Accident”; a newcomer named Peggy offered an untitled, seemingly improvised blues tune that seems to point to a promising sideline performing at ragtime society meets such as this one; and Eric offered one of his favorite Joplin rags, “The Nonpareil,” whose cover artwork (Uncle Sam waving bunting cloth) ties in with the flag-waving sentiment often felt in the month of July.

Taking us home for the afternoon were Andrew and Brad, beginning with Andrew’s fine rendition of the very uncharacteristically Classic-raglike “Red Raven” by Charley Straight; the Carmichael-Loesser standard “Heart and Soul”; and Bargy’s tremendous, intricate Novelty solo “Omeomy,” recorded on piano roll in the key of G-flat and transcribed (by Tom Brier) down a half-step to the key of F major, which Andrew said may be easier to read off the page but is more difficult to play than the original key. Typical for Andrew, he presented creative arrangements of all three tunes and performed with superb, pleasing and wholly appropriate ad libs and embellishments.

Brad wrapped up the afternoon with Joplin’s “Palm Leaf” and the Father of Stride Piano’s own “Jingles,” taking the latter from typical James P. Johnson pianistics to a quiet, low-key interlude to a thunderous, wild Stride ending. The nine pianists wound up performing 41 tunes in all, leaving the door open for the next OCRS, on September 17 at Steamers. We’ll see you all here, and back again Oct. 15-16 for RagFest 2005!

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